Normally, you hate to make snap judgments this early into the season. Only playing four games thus far means 25% of the season is done, with 75% to come. Jobs, both starting and coaching alike, can be won or lost this far into the season. Some players have produced well enough to be given more snaps or targets, while other have dropped so many passes you’re looking for the Control+Z on long term deals you signed in the offseason (looking at you, Mr. Britt). While it is unwise to jump to conclusions, taking a look back on what has happened this year and how it can shape the rest of the season is a good exercise. So lets take a quarter poll assessment of the position groups for the year.
While it was no one’s plan to start DeShone Kizer Game 1 of the season when he was drafted in Round 2 of the 2017 Draft, but he has produced about as well as can be expected of a rookie player with this receiving corps and the usual rookie expectations put in place. Week 1 against the Pittsburgh Steelers was Kizer’s best performance to date in terms of quarterback rating, but it was also the week he was sacked seven times, mostly due to his inability to get rid of the ball. Kizer was crisp and completed two thirds of his passes on the day in what easily could have been a win against one of the best teams in the AFC.
Week 2 was the migraine game, which cost him a quarter of snaps but led to three interceptions and a quarterback rating of 27.3. Hard to fault a player trying to play with migraines, but it obviously hindered his ability to see downfield and differentiate between Browns receivers and Ravens defenders. Kevin Hogan came in and performed admirably if not a bit recklessly, throwing for a touchdown and an egregious interception before the half. Hogan’s play off the bench ensured his spot as the backup to Kizer and spurned hundreds of memes about Kevin “Hulk” Hogan. Oh, wait, that was just me making them…sorry.
Playing Indianapolis in Week 3 led to the highest yardage total throwing and rushing for Kizer, but ended in a loss due to three interceptions and drops from the wide receivers killing drives. Able to move the ball and get it out for 242 yards, Kizer completed passes to nine different receivers, 10 if you count a ball batted down at the line of scrimmage but caught by right guard Kevin Zeitler for -4 yards.
DeShone had his worst game of the season in Week 4 against the Bengals, but drops from the wide receivers did not help out the young quarterback. Throwing for a (albeit short) career low 118 yards, Kizer fell into some bad habits mechanically that our own Jake Burns went into yesterday.
The play from the quarterback position has been sub par by league standards, but when you consider a rookie is behind center and he’s throwing to a wide receiver corps highlighted by Kenny “Inexcusable” Britt, you will take what you can get. Nobody is clamoring for Kizer to sit and while some might still suspect an early pick of Sam Darnold or Josh Rosen in next year’s draft, Deshone Kizer looks to be a quarterback you can build around and can be a starter for a team for years to come, and frankly, that’s all you can ask for as a Browns fan.
Let me tell you a tale about two players heading in opposite directions. Isaiah Crowell was expected to blow the doors off the place and run behind the best offensive line in his career as Brown and set himself up for a big payday in the offseason. Duke Johnson was trying to fit into a Swiss Army knife role, split out wide in the slot while also getting some snaps in the backfield.
There are few bigger disappointments than Crowell this season, only totaling 134 yards through four games on 46 attempts while catching only five passes out of the backfield for 50 yards. He has looked sluggish, not hitting holes with any kind of authority and unable to get to the outside on planned rushes. Horrible in pass protection, Crowell has lost snaps on third downs to Johnson.
The Duke has exceeded expectations, even the most glowing ones. While only getting 10 carries on the year, 57 yards on the ground almost doubles Crowell’s averages 5.7 to 2.9, respectively, and he has two touchdowns on the season whereas Crowell has none. In the passing game, Johnson has produced 20 catches on 28 targets for 207 yards. Getting Johnson more touches as the year progresses has to be a focal point of the coaching staff.
Yikes. While this was an unexciting group to begin, an injury to Corey Coleman’s hand has thinned the already bare bones group and brought to light arguably the worst group of receivers in the league. For the most part unproven, these wide receivers have shown that bringing in some help for DeShone Kizer has to be a priority in the offseason.
Kenny Britt leads the team in targets but a 34.8% catch rate is the worst among players with 20 or more targets. Drops, loafing on routes and all around horrible play has had Head Coach Hue Jackson come out and say that he would have bench Britt, but had injuries that were preventing him from sitting Britt.
#Browns HC Hue Jackson on keeping WR Kenny Britt in game being counter productive: I totally agree, but we had some guys down with injuries
— Nate Ulrich (@NateUlrichABJ) October 2, 2017
Rashard Higgins is basically a microcosm of the position group. He was cut once, signed to the practice squad, brought back to the roster and had a 7 catch, 95 yard receiving day in Week 2, then has caught two passes for 10 yards and got called for three offensive pass interference penalties in the two weeks proceeding.
Ricardo Louis is the yardage leader of the wide receiver group but only has 133 yards on 10 catches and a 50% catch rate, which is also the highest rate of any of the players deemed wide receivers on the roster. When 50% is the high water mark of a group that has “receiver” in the title, that might be an issue.
Kasen Williams and the recently-cut Jordan Leslie (a possibly torn hamstring will end his season) have each played numerous games for the Browns and each have exactly one catch and have not engendered the type of rapport with Kizer some might hope for. Sammie Coates has been practicing this week and looks to have his Browns debut soon, and while his speed and size spell potential, he has not had a catch rate above 50% in either year he’s played thus far in his career.
Here is where some hope can be found. First round pick David Njoku has impressed in limited attempts, catching nine of 12 targets for 70 yards and two touchdowns, proving to be the red zone threat many would think he would be. He has yet to be able to flash his speed and game-breaking ability, but that is expected as he learns how to the position in the NFL.
Seth “Safety” Devalve has produced as well as expected, leading the way with 134 yards receiving which should have been more if a few penalties had not been called. When Gary Barnidge was cut before the season, Devalve was a big reason as to why. He also has the longest play on the season, a 49 yard hookup with Kevin Hogan in Week 2. Look for Kizer to use his tight ends in the coming weeks in short crossing routes as they attempt to build up some confidence.
Expected to be one of the best offensive lines in the league, the play of the majority of the line has left much to be desired. The line has played better of late, and there have been good performances from those you would expect, but a seven sack game in Week 1 and the inability to open holes for the run game throughout the season has soured many fans on the perception of the line. Twists and stunts have been a struggle all year, as as you can see in the tweet/video below, it has been a mixed bag of horribleness on some occasions.
3 & 8 we see another trending Browns problem: twist/loop stunts. The Browns have yet to be able to communicate a loop stunt properly all year. This should be an easy slide off for Tretter to pick up Lawson once his man slants. Doesn’t happen & Atkins abuses Zeitler and…puke. pic.twitter.com/FqRtRL7yYm
— Jake Burns (@jake_burns18) October 2, 2017
While there are no counting stats beside sacks to grade how an offensive line is playing, PFF has grades on every single player, and all but JC Tretter have been graded as average, with Tretter getting a below average mark. “National Treasure” Joe Thomas has graded out to be the best left tackle in all of football according to PFF, which should come to no surprise to any. He has performed as good as he always has and will continue to do so until the end of time or until the blood contract with the Devil runs out, whichever comes first.
For a team that was not expected to make the playoffs, the season has gone worse than expected. The Week 1 matchup against the Steelers was the expected loss and ended up being the closest game on the slate. Week 3 against the Andrew Luck-less Colts should have been a better outcome, as the score is closer than the game was played. Going 0-3 against team in the division was expected, but wins had better start coming sooner rather than later or someone’s job could be on the chopping block.